“The mountains are calling and I must go”
In July, I went on my first trip since the global pandemic began and it felt incredible to get out of the house and spend time in nature again! I choose this route because I haven’t explored the lower half of Colorado and was hoping it would be less populated than the Denver area to ensure safety during this time. As for lodging, I did a combination of camping and Airbnbs to limit my contact with other individuals.
Best time to visit Colorado
From skiing in the winter and spring to hiking and numerous outdoor activities in the summer and fall, you can visit this incredible state any time of the year depending on our activity preference! For the following road trip route, some roads and trails may close in the winter and will not be accessible to you. I recommend this route from May-October and then come back the other half of the year for all the winter activities!
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
President Hoover designated this area a national monument all the way back in 1932 and it wasn’t until 2004 that it officially became a national park! The Great Sand Dunes is home to massive dunes, with the most popular hike going up to the Star Dune, providing incredible views of the mountains. There are a handful of trails, camping options (which includes camping ON THE DUNES with a permit), sledding, and more. I recommend stopping here for at least half a day to a full day.
Colorado Springs + Manitou Springs
Colorado Springs is well known for their famous 14er (a mountain over 14,000 feet!) Pikes Peak, and Garden of the Gods, and countless hiking trails in the area! I hiked 4 miles up to Mt. Muscoco and did a shorter hike in Red Rock Canyon open space closer to town, which are just two of the endless hikes in the area! Manitou Springs is a neighboring town with cute shops, eight mineral springs for you to find around the town, and the famous Manitou Incline. I personally spent about 2-3 days in this area, but you could easily spend a week here in my opinion! A few other recommendations on my list include Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Broadmoor Seven Falls, and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.
Gunnison + Crested Butte
Home to incredible white water rafting in the summer and a winter wonderland for skiers in the winter, the Gunnison and Crested Butte region is a cute area in the center of Colorado. I had never been white water rafting until this trip and would recommend a class 3 trip to the averagely fit person! Crested Butte is the cuter and fancier ski town compared to Gunnison, with numerous hiking and biking trails and plenty of adorable shops in the downtown area.
Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park
This less popular national park is home to an extremely steep gorge at more than 2700 feet enjoyed by more than 300,000 visitors annually. The gorge is often “black” due to the steepness making it difficult for light to reach the bottom of the canyon resulting in shadows throughout the gorge for a majority of the day. This deep canyon continues to be created by the swift moving Gunnison river dropping at a rate of 34 feet per mile, which in comparison to the Grand Canyon the Colorado river drops at less than 8 feet per mile.
Another incredible mountain town nestled among the mountains is home to canyons, waterfalls, hikes, hot springs and in the winter an ice park! I highly recommend a night or two in this town before making your way down the famous Million Dollar Highway to Silverton and then Durango.
Mesa Verde National Park
This national park is smaller in scale yet filled with so much history! Once you arrive in the park, you’ll continue to drive about 45 minutes to an hour south throughout the hilly park stopping at numerous great views along the way. After driving about 45 minutes, you’ll find all the major highlights in close proximity or a short drive away. Since I visited during COVID, the cave dwelling tours were not operating, but I’ve heard high remarks about this tour and would recommend waiting to visit when the tours are available again!
This well-known ski town has incredible views all around and is a must visit in my opinion! They have a free gondola system that goes from Telluride to the top of the mountain and over to Mountain Village that takes about 13 minutes to go from end to end. If you love hiking, mountain biking, great food, and skiing in the winter, put Telluride on your bucket list! I personally LOVED the Telluride and Mountain Village area even though it can be pricer, it is an incredible mountain town to visit and one I definitely plan to visit again!
Pagosa Springs has, you guessed it, plenty of hot springs surrounded by the gorgeous San Juan Mountains, national forest, plenty of hikes, and this area is even a dark spot and an incredible area to stargaze! During my brief stay here, I visited the famous Springs Resort and Spa where you can enter without being a hotel guest and purchase an adult day pass for $35.
Overall, I felt Colorado did an excellent job keeping everyone safe, requiring masks in most cities, and social distancing! It felt amazing to spend so much time being active and out in nature after months of quarantine. I highly recommend a road trip or local getaway to safely getaway, positively benefit your mental health, and give you something to look forward to again!
Happy and safe travels everyone!